Speech

Institute of Public Administration Australia Public Lecture
Reform of Australian Government Administration: From Blueprint to Outcomes.
18 May 2010

Mr Terry Moran AO
Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

 

Introduction

Thank you all for coming today.

I thank the Institute of Public Administration for another opportunity to speak to people who understand how critical good government administration is to national prosperity.

Today I want to talk about taking the Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration from concept to reality – from Blueprint to outcomes.

With the Government agreeing last week to implement the Blueprint in full, we now have a unique opportunity to substantially change the way the APS does business for the benefit of all Australians.

Governments do not always accept reviews in full. But in this case they have agreed to all twenty-eight recommendations.  This is a great comfort to me and the Advisory Group, as it sets us on a path to reform with clear Government support and acceptance.  It means the Blueprint stands firm as a whole as it was always designed to do.

Which brings me to my key message today that the Blueprint is more than the sum of its parts.  It has been designed that way.  Each reform supports another like individual strands that are bound together to form a strong rope.

As we now turn to implementation, it is worth reflecting on how this design came about. It is not a theoretical construct. The Blueprint is a practical document that was written to meet the concerns of real people.  And I believe this will help us immensely when it comes to implementing the reforms.

How we conducted the review

So let me start by explaining how we addressed the concerns of real people.

And the answer is of course simple. We asked real people what they thought.

In my experience of reviews over the years, this simple step is habitually undervalued in our quest for rigorous analysis as the starting point.

But however strong our analysis, statistics do not always provide hard evidence about what will work on the ground.

Indeed our own desktop research - conducted by KPMG - provided data comparing the APS to other high performing public services from around the world.

However, when we scratched the surface of that data, which was the best available to KPMG or anybody else, we found that it posed more questions than answers.

Data from the OECD about Australia’s policy capacity seemed on the surface very conclusive.  But members of the Advisory Group were skeptical about how it had been collected, and what it really meant.

In fact the main conclusion I could draw from the international benchmarking study is that we need to get a lot better at collecting and analysing data about the APS and other public services.We all have anecdotes but they are insufficient in themselves.

Yet the Advisory Group never intended to rely heavily on desktop research. From the start we planned a comprehensive consultation process.

Focus groups were conducted with randomly selected public servants across the country to unearth the problems they face in their day to day working lives.

A roundtable was held with new entrants to the public service to elicit their early impressions.

Online forums were conducted with the public, receiving over 800 posts about how to improve the APS.

And we received over 200 submissions, including one from IPAA itself, in response to our discussion paper from a cross section of individuals and organisations from the public, private and non-profit sectors.

Departmental secretaries were consulted regularly through the review, and former secretaries and public service commissioners were engaged.

The Advisory Group - which itself was made up of representatives from the private sector, academia and the public service - also drew on the findings of the State of the Service report prepared by the APSC each year.

These multiple channels of consultation threw up a number of common themes – issues that arose again and again to demand our attention. These included:

  • the need to improve the quality of leadership and management in the APS;
  • a desire for more standardised terms and conditions;
  • a frustration with red tape; and
  • a belief that we focus too much on our own programs and not enough on the recipients in the community.

The end result is a Blueprint that has been deliberately constructed to meet the concerns of the APS and the broader community.

The blueprint is, in effect, a series of balanced judgements about how to deal with the issues highlighted by the consultations.

How the Blueprint is constructed

The Blueprint has also been designed so that different reforms reinforce one-another to achieve a set of overarching objectives.

These objectives were of course informed by our consultations, and are reflected in the structure of the document.

At the broadest level, the Blueprint aims to strengthen four components of a high performing public service.  They are:

  • Meeting the needs of citizens;
  • Strong leadership and strategic direction;
  • A highly capable workforce; and
  • Efficiency with consistently high standards.

We have grouped the reforms into these four categories and, by and large, each reform makes a clear-cut contribution to the category within which it sits.

For example, Reform 1.1 – Simplify Australian Government services for citizens -clearly contributes to Meeting the needs of citizens.

However, across the reforms, there are a number of objectives that span these categories.  Some of these include greater collaboration, a focus on innovation, improved accountability, and working more effectively to meet the needs of Government and the community.

The Blueprint outlines structures and processes to achieve these objectives.  However it does more than this.  For each objective, it provides for support for staff and strong accountability.

This is how the reforms reinforce one another. This is why the Blueprint as a whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Because structural changes are backed up with support for staff and improved accountability.

Improving Strategic Policy

Let me give you a concrete example.

One of the objectives of the Blueprint is to improve the capacity of the APS to deliver strategic policy – policy that addresses complex problems facing society.

Coming to grips with complex issues, such as indigenous disadvantage or climate change, is at the heart of good strategic policy across many areas of government.

It requires a finely tuned mix of strong conceptual thinking, and a sophisticated understanding of real world constraints.  A good strategic policy leader needs to have both.

The Blueprint offers some practical structures and processes to improve our strategic policy capability.

It proposes a strategic policy network be established to share ideas and build strategic capacity amongst staff working on strategic policy. And it recommends greater use of cross-agency project teams overseen by senior leaders from the APS200. 

A new process is also proposed for commissioning strategic projects, through the newly constituted Secretaries Board.

But that is not the end of the story. The Blueprint recommends that people at the front-line of service delivery be consulted in policy development. Indeed it goes even further to propose collaboration by citizens in policy and service design.

This is a very important point. Strategic policy should not be developed in a vacuum, for example, solely through abstract economic equations. There needs to be a far better understanding of the implications for people on the ground. There needs to be an understanding of how delivery systems work, and of how the transition from ideas to outcomes affects real people. This is what gives policy relevance.

I recently heard a comment from an official from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs about the need to make our social policy more relevant.

He suggested that the APS tends to either focus on macro social policy like income support, or micro social policy through individual case management.

But his key lesson was that we are not good at working in between, particularly, as I see it, in shaping big delivery systems which the Commonwealth itself does not operate.

He highlighted that we are not good at tailoring our big programs to the different characteristics of our customers and this is a point I strongly agree with. Better links between policy & delivery staff and the broader community are essential if we are to refine our large delivery programs.

So having described some of the processes to improve strategic policy, let me turn to the support for staff that will underpin this goal.

Firstly a policy toolkit will be developed that provides staff with practical guidance relating to best practice in strategic policy work.  It will be developed through the Strategic Policy Network to meet the needs of the very people in the APS who are grappling with complex strategic problems. 

From a PM&C perspective I hope this toolkit will advance our understanding of eight core elements that form the basis for high quality strategic advice.  Allow me to go into more detail on these elements.

The first is the time horizon.  Strategic policy advice thinks beyond the next incremental decision and considers how governments may effectively position the nation for the future through their actions today.

The second is a holistic perspective.  Strategic policy advice must consider the levers available to government across all policy domains and not restrict itself to particular silos.

The third is clear goals and objectives. We must know where we are going and be able to measure our success in getting there.  The new COAG framework is an example of where governments are putting this into practice. That is, governments have agreed to base their policy work in a number of areas on achieving measurable improvements in agreed and shared broad outcomes.

The fourth is analysis of underlying problems. This means going beyond treating the symptoms, and understanding what is truly driving a problem and in turn how it can be addressed.

The fifth is shaping the future debate. Good strategic policy should open new opportunities for discussion and reform that would not have otherwise existed. If we succeed in this, when it comes to making a decision in the future, the discussion and thinking about the best course of action will have already begun.

The sixth is finding innovative and creative solutions. Rather than focusing on marginal change, we should consider and take on board ideas that may seem radical.  We should think about what new approaches can be used and what solutions can be borrowed from other domains.

The seventh is consideration of implementation.  Where there are implementation risks, there should be a plan to manage and mitigate those risks.

Finally, but importantly, we must always test the results of strategic policy work by imagining their impact on the ground – how citizens, communities, businesses and systems are affected. There is much made of citizen centric delivery – and rightly so – but we should also be focusing on citizen centric policy.

To see this happen, our staff must have the appropriate skills. The skills needed for strategic policy work will be bolstered through reforms aimed at strengthening the workforce.

This includes more structured workforce planning to identify and address emerging skills gaps. Skills such as statistical analysis and even project management can be important for developing robust strategic advice.

Learning and development will also play a part. Every employee will have access to annual learning and development opportunities, whether formal education, training, mentoring or on the job experiences.

And staff will have better links to academia, in particular through the Australian National Institute for Public Policy at the ANU and around Australia through ANZSoG. This will include:

  • scholarships for public servants to study at ANU through the Sir Roland Wilson Foundation;
  • support from Departments and Agencies for our best people to participate in programs and courses at a new National Security College;
  • an enhanced presence of ANZSOG at the ANU and increased support for individuals to participate in existing and new courses and programs; and
  • the Australian Centre on China in the World.

These are concrete measures to support staff and develop policy capacity amongst APS employees. 

Which brings me to accountability.APS leaders will be far more accountable for the delivery of strategic policy.

Firstly, through shared outcomes across portfolios. This means that each Department will report not only against its own outcomes, but against broader Government objectives affecting it.

Take closing the gap on indigenous disadvantage as an example.  Departments responsible for education, employment, health, housing and family and community services might all report against a broad outcome to close the gap.  Silos last - not first.  All agencies must shoulder responsibility for the overall result and their impact on Australians. 

The intention is to encourage greater collaboration in the design of policies to meet complex problems.  It provides Departments with an incentive to work together on solutions. And the results will be published.

The second measure contributing to enhanced accountability is capability reviews. These reviews will focus on agencies’ institutional capabilities, including strategy, leadership and organisational effectiveness. They will be short, sharp and get to the heart of matters.

The reviews will result in capability improvement plans, which secretaries will be held accountable for progressing.  Follow up reviews will be conducted to assess progress.

Indeed secretaries will be held to far greater account than they are today. A new performance management system will be introduced including 360 degree feedback.

So to bring it all together, strategic policy will be enhanced through new processes – a strategic policy network, greater emphasis on cross-agency projects, more engagement with the community and a commissioning process for secretaries.

Staff will be supported through a policy toolkit, better workforce planning, more learning and development opportunities and better links to academia.

And there will be greater accountability for results through shared outcomes, capability reviews and new performance management for Secretaries.

These reforms are mutually reinforcing.  Together they will bolster strategic policy in a way that is far more sustainable than a narrow focus on process alone.

Better services for citizens

I’ll now turn to another example to illustrate how the reforms combine to reinforce objectives. 

A core objective of the Blueprint is to deliver better services for citizens. The Blueprint proposes a range of processes to achieve this goal. These include streamlining Government service delivery through greater use of automation and data sharing, and aligning programs under a service delivery strategy.

Simplified funding arrangements for the community sector are also proposed, and there are several proposals to improve partnerships with state governments.

These process changes are again reinforced by reforms to support the workforce. For example, the Australian Public Service Commission will have a much greater role in assessing, coordinating and purchasing learning and development. This will involve identifying best practice within agencies and encouraging the spread of that best practice.

For example, I could envisage a scenario where the expertise of AusAID in working with remote communities in other countries is harnessed to deliver training for staff working with remote indigenous communities in Australia.

The Blueprint also advocates greater mobility for staff, including more opportunities for secondments with the states and territories.  Portability of entitlements across different levels of government will also be reviewed, further opening development opportunities for staff working in service delivery and in the broader public sector.

APS recruitment and induction will also be improved to support and retain recruits from the private and community sectors, including those in senior roles. External recruits can bring new and valuable perspectives to government services.

And a review of APS classification arrangements and work level standards will provide a contemporary capability framework that offers greater clarity around knowledge and skills requirements across different APS careers, including in service delivery.

In terms of accountability, the Blueprint proposes a new citizen survey to identify drivers of citizen satisfaction – or otherwise - with government services.  The results of the survey will be published in departmental annual reports, together with measures taken to improve citizen satisfaction.

This is true accountability to the citizen. The survey will be designed to ensure reliable data on citizens’ direct experience of services. Publishing this information will provide a strong incentive to improve services. It will also offer valuable insights on how to improve.

Secretaries’ performance will be assessed against newly defined responsibilities, including the delivery of government programs and collaboration to achieve whole of government objectives.
 
So in terms of better services for citizens, the Blueprint again outlines processes to deliver direct improvements, which are enhanced by support for staff, and stronger accountability. Again the reforms are mutually reinforcing, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts

Implementation

This brings me to implementation. Because the Blueprint is made up of interconnected reforms, sequencing will have a significant impact.

Some things can be done quickly because they are easy to do, like establishing a Secretaries Board. Others are more complicated and will take time to develop, like fully integrated service delivery.

Some changes represent foundations for the overall reform agenda, and need to be put in place early. Others are building blocks that will follow over time.

A reinvigorated APSC is a big reform, but also a foundation reform.  The Government recognised this by providing nearly $39 million over three years to develop the APSC in the 2010-11 Budget.  On the other hand, revising the APS values is a change that cannot be made without first conducting appropriate consultation.

And while many of the reforms can be implemented through mandated change, for example a new governance guide, or a revised performance management framework, the reform agenda also relies on behavioural change, which as we all know does not happen overnight.  Cultures are hard to shift.

For example, the Blueprint calls for greater collaboration and innovation, more engagement with the community, and a much greater focus on outcomes for citizens. Many departments are currently not very outward focused, and these changes will be hard.  They will be seen by many as risky. But they are important and they need to happen.

Each of the reforms has a lead agency that is responsible for driving implementation. The APSC, the Department of Finance and Deregulation and PM&C are lead agencies for the vast majority of reforms.

Many reforms will be significantly progressed in 2010.  For example the strategic policy network has already met, as has the Secretaries Board. A review of the SES is about to get underway, and the APSC is planning for significant changes.

An expert panel of public, private and community sector leaders will be established to report to the Prime Minister on progress on the reform agenda.

And within my department I have established a small implementation team to work with the APSC on the initial implementation for the overall reform agenda. 

The team is currently working on two fronts – one, the practical implementation, pulling together plans across all the reforms; and two, a focus on cultural change.

The first step in driving cultural change is to communicate the intent of the Blueprint to the broader APS.  This is being done through a series of seminars for staff across Australia over the next two months.

Between myself and the Public Service Commissioner, presentations will be delivered in ten locations around the country – starting in Melbourne tomorrow.  Officers from my department and the APSC will also present to all departments and in Canberra over this period.

Early engagement with APS leaders is also essential.

As I mentioned earlier, secretaries were consulted throughout the development of the Blueprint, and we have now met as the Secretaries Board for the first time to discuss the reforms.

The Board will have a major role in driving the reform agenda as part of its stewardship role for the public service.

We will also be convening the other new leadership group, the APS200, within the next month to discuss its role in championing the reforms in departments and agencies.

Over the course of this year, the consultation strategy will change from explaining the reforms, to consultation by lead agencies on how to implement them. This is the key to implementation – have a clear, strong direction for what is to change, and engage with staff on how to do it.

Conclusion

The Blueprint provides clear direction on the way forward for the APS which has now been endorsed by the Government.

As I have outlined today, it contains a set of self-reinforcing reforms that combine to build a robust reform platform.  Structural changes are supported by measures to empower staff and make leaders more accountable.

This is an agenda that is grounded in the views of APS staff and stakeholders. As such, I believe it will be embraced by the broader public service.

We need to ensure it is.  We need to ensure that staff are excited about the opportunities that the Blueprint presents.  Opportunities to learn and develop. Opportunities to engage with the community.  A licence to be more creative and innovative.  An imperative to cut red tape, particularly internal red tape. And a mandate to test the boundaries, where-ever they constrain the APS from doing better for the Australian people.

The challenge now is to implement the reforms. Some people say twenty-eight reforms is an overly ambitious target.  The Government didn’t agree – it signed up to them all.

I also don’t believe the Blueprint is too ambitious.To the contrary, it needs to be ambitious to achieve the goals we have set.  And the mutually reinforcing nature of the components of the Blueprint will make the task easier. I, for one, am looking forward to the change.



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Last Updated: 19 May 2010